Pay No Attention to the Sign Above the Door

UPDATE: Broken Door has closed. See Comment Section below.

Name: Broken Door Espresso
Location: 231 East Santa Clara Street (across from City Hall), San Jose, CA

Even if it is starting to become cliche to build back alley cafes, I still enjoy the thrill of sleuthing out semi-hidden locations. I even have a soft spot for the apparently now-shuttered “no name” concept (think No Name Sushi or the Hush Hush). I tend to draw the line, however, when it comes to mis-direction, even if it is inadvertent. Having the wrong name hanging over your cafe is neither hip nor good for business. And if that wrong name happens to be “eMocha Cafe: Coffee and Smoothies” (ewww!) rather than the much more better sounding “Broken Door Espresso,” then the situation can only be worse.

I only started out this review of Broken Door with major complaint because: a) it was how my trip started out, with my father and I circling the block worried that Broken Door had closed – I’d like to save everyone else the trouble; b) this is a relatively easy problem to fix (just hang a poster up in the window), and c), there was little else about which I could or would complain. Broken Door, a Blue Bottle serving cafe, gets their coffee right and offers you the full range of Blue Bottle’s variety in doing it.

The fact that Broken Door carries Blue Bottle is already a good sign. Blue Bottle coffee is better than what is served by most cafes (especially in San Jose) and the James Freeman model of coffee supplying requires an above-the-norm level of skill from it’s vendors when it comes to coffee preparation. It also helps that the Broken Door folks are clearly committed to the idea of good coffee. You can follow their coffee preparation philosophy on the Broken Door site/blog, and I certainly observed this attention to detail. My barista watched my shot like a hawk as he pulled it from their LaMarzocco Linea.

That shot was very nice. It was a single of the Broken Door signature espresso, blended for them by Blue Bottle. It was surprisingly mild, delicate and sweet, with lots of honey and brown sugar. It was the yin to Blue Bottle’s Roman espresso’s yang, and lacked the deep rich underbelly I’ve come to expect from Blue Bottle’s other espressos. It was a nice change of pace from what I’m used to getting and worked quite well as an espresso, but I have my doubts about how well it will stand up to some milk. Broken Door also cycles through other Blue Bottle espresso blends on a somewhat regular basis.

For drip coffee, Broken door operates a four cone drip station and provides you with a choice of roughly 5-8 of Blue Bottle’s beans. As far as I’m aware, not even Blue Bottle itself offers this kind of choice with its pour over drip. I didn’t actually order any – I’ve tried all these coffees before – but I did watch them make a cup of decaf for my father. Nothing magical or awe-inspiring, but solid pour over technique for sure.

Broken Door is a relatively tiny cafe, split between a smattering of outdoor tables and a couple of the indoor variety. Aesthetically, the cafe is dominated by two features. Two walls are made of brick and are covered in framed menus. These serve as the backdrop for local musicians along with the coffee counter operating as makeshift stage (see these videos). The other feature is the large, graffiti-art mural, adding a sense of street credibility and blending together the space above the bar with the wall immediately to your left as you enter.

Ironically, the fact that Broken Door uses Blue Bottle may work against it as a coffee destination. Those of us in more northernly latitudes can get the same stuff closer to home, while anyone traveling to the Bay Area is unlikely to head to the South Bay just for Blue Bottle coffee.

Still, Broken Door has some great geography going for it. Barefoot Coffee is just far enough down the road in Santa Clara to seem far away making it the go to spot for local folks. Plus, Broken Door is just across the street from City Hall, around the corner from the convention center and a short hop from the airport. Next to Barefoot, it’s the best thing going in South Bay coffee and it’s well worth a stop if you happen to be in the area.

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2 comments to Pay No Attention to the Sign Above the Door

  • It looks like Broken Door is no more, having been replaced by Red Berry Coffee Bar, serving Ritual, Ecco and Barefoot coffees. Here’s what Barefoot Coffee has said about it:

    “Jeff Hampton, owner-proprietor is doing everything right — he’s taken training from all three companies, bought awesome equipment (A Ditting bulk grinder, a Dalla Corte 3-group mod’d to adjust temperature across all three groupheads, 2 Mazzer-E doserless grinders and a series of Fetco hot water towers), and is rotating out a high selection of single-origin coffees and espresso blends, cutting no corners and offering no compromises. In the future, they plan to offer classes from all of their vendors (including Winnie Yu from Teance!), and show movies on their high-whitewall setup.”

  • yakster

    Broken Door Espresso has been spotted in a kiosk in the alley next to Zanottos in San Jose between 2nd and 3rd, and Eddie and Veronica are pulling Blue Bottle and serving pour over to the locals. They’re doing a great job; it must be tough keeping the espresso dialed in out in the open, but somehow they manage. It’s a good opportunity for us South Bay folks to get Blue Bottle in our own stomping ground, and it’s a short trip over to Red Berry if your craving Barefoot, Ecco, or Ritual.

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